My Mother-in-Law's Kitchen
Fred Rochlin and I married in Los Angeles on July 6, 1947. Two days later, we drove to the Rochlin family home in Nogales, Arizona. Just as Fred had described it to me, the brick house where he was born and raised was the only building on an otherwise unoccupied sixteen-acre site. We were warmly received for the duration of our stay, and welcomed, eventually with our four children, for annual visits thereafter. From the first day, I was allowed into my mother-in-law’s kitchen, and as requested, was given written instructions on the preparation of each dish in progress.
At first sight, I was struck by the variegated ambience. On the east wall stood a nearly new (1946) electric range, and in the southwest corner, the old stove Annie favored for baking breads and cakes. Scarred pine drain boards crowded with mason jars, electrical appliances and draining dishes flanked the sink. Above, tall windows admitted north light and a view of rounded hills, bearded with amber Mexican hay. In the center was an oak table big enough for gallons of peaches and plums cut up for cornpote; corn husks spread for a hundred tamales; a lug of ugerkes (cucumbers, for pickling). Near the back door was the pantry where were stored beef in tall crocks with rock-secured lids, tin boxes of homemade cookies, cakes and preserved fruits. In days of less money and greater strength, I was told, my mother-in-law kept chickens, turkeys, a cow, and the pantry reeked of newly-laid eggs and curing cheese.
Adjoining the kitchen, was the breakfast room with western windows framing a rock-walled desert garden, palo verde, mesquite, ocotillo, a feeder for migrating birds, a hammock stretched between tall junipers, and on the far side of the driveway, a ramada and a rock barbecue pit. In the background, was Ambos Nogales, Arizona and Sonora, wearing a gray-blue veil of mesquite cooking smoke in the morning, and straggly patches of colored lights at night.
It was the country kitchen in a house on an otherwise deserted hill that I, a city girl, had imagined with one difference. Taken one at a time, I could identify the smells, tastes, sights and sounds as Jewish, Mexican and American. Growing up in Boyle Heights, a more widely mixed immigrant neighborhood, I felt at home. But the blend in my mother-in-law’s kitchen was stronger and more authentic. Consider the meals: three a day, seven days a week, my white-haired, bespectacled, and round-faced, -bosomed, and -bellied mother-in-law served.
Breakfast was American fare, canned fruit juice, eggs, cereal, pancakes, waffles, toast and jam. All were cooked to individual order, speedily and efficiently with the aid of a toaster, percolator, waffle iron, griddle pan, egg timer, blender and mixer. My shtetl-born mother-in-law was fascinated with the labor-saving appliances stocked in the family hardware store. The breakfast table accommodated six, eight, in a squeeze. You ate, chatted, or you studied the matinal desert or cityscape, and were on your way. The cook or her current assistant, Juana, Rosita, Felicidad, whisked away your plate, eager to complete the breakfast chores and start on the next meal.
There’s a second, and equally detailed account as the years advanced and Annie Rochlin, along with everyone around her—family, friends, fellow citizens—assume new roles. Should you want more, it’ll be coming your way.
Highlights from The Rochlin Guide
Orange County Jewish Historical Society & Archives The society was established in 1999 in order to discover and preserve the history of the Jewish community in Orange County, and to promote public awareness of Jewish contributions to the Orange County way of life. The society's ongoing projects include the Living History Program and the digitizing of images from their archives. Additionally, it publishes a monthly column in Orange County Jewish Life on local Jewish history and activities. The society's documentary California Orange Jews: The Story of the Jews of Orange County was recently featured in the International Film Festival at the 30th Annual Conference on Jewish Genealogy.
Their archives consist of both personal and community materials relating to the history of the Jewish community of Orange County, dating back to 1858. They are in the process of being organized and digitized. They are currently unavailable to the public, but may be accessed by contacting the archivist. Washington State Jewish Historical Archives The Western States Jewish History Archive contains the compiled research and activities of the Society's two founders, Dr. Norton Stern and Rabbi William Kramer. The bulk of the collection includes research files on individuals, institutions and organizations, and synagogues throughout the western states with an emphasis on California. Some offer original primary source materials, while others are largely comprised of newspaper clippings and research notes. Some files contain internal documents -- meeting minutes, memos, and legal and financial records -- in addition to newsletters, pamphlets and other public materials. Kramer's personal and professional papers are also in the collection. Mizel Museum The Mizel Museum was founded by Dr. Rabbi Stanley Wagner and Denver philanthropists Carol and Larry A. Mizel in 1982 to bring attention to Jewish art, history, culture, and Jewish life in Colorado. Its inaugural exhibition was titled "Denver Jewry Through the Years: A Family Album." Over the years, it has grown from a small ethnic museum to a nationally-recognized, award-winning institution reaching broad local and regional audiences with cross-cultural programs that promote dialogue, reflection and creativity. A sampling of its many exhibitions and outreach programs includes: "Bridges of Understanding," which focuses on the ceremonies and festivals of major cultural groups worldwide, including the Jewish people; and "Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World)," which featured sayings of 54 participants from 27 countries, each expressed in its own language. The Mizel Museum also offers family events, summer camps, and classes in art, dance, and crafts for children of all faiths. Hon. Bernard H. Levinson Hawaii Jewish Archives Bernard H. Levinson was Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Hawaii from 1967-1974. This distinctive collection, possibly the only one of its kind, traces Jewish life in Hawaii. Documents date back to the 1840s; Jewish settlers began to arrive in the 1850s. The collection includes letters, articles, photographs, cassette tapes, and miscellaneous slides. Queries are accepted by email, mail or telephone; visits by appointment.
For more contact information for these and 39 other Jewish institutions, view The Rochlin Guide.